People can see that a distinctive day each week stems the droning monotony of modern life. They are refreshed by this and as the day of rest is shared, it is an ideal moment to enrich relationships. People have more time to give to each other and especially to those who get less time from others the rest of the week (notably younger and older people). A day of rest relieves environmental stress at a stroke and reduces the carbon footprint from seven steps to six – a profound way of tackling climate change which policy makers have been markedly reluctant to accept as we search for new ways of sustainable living. Crucially, a day of rest gives us relief from a constant round of buying and selling, encouraging us to embrace deeper values in life than retail cost.
Faced with such arguments and opinion poll findings, you might expect there to be more of a public debate going on about what we have lost. The silence we hear speaks volumes of the shallowness and myopia of many in the political classes. Joined up thinking - clumsy management language apart - is in short supply when it comes to helping human beings to flourish in their relationships. The moment the profits of big businesses are at stake it seems all imaginative questions of what makes for a good society have to be stifled.
Christians take different attitudes to the day of rest. A few are rigorously sabbatarian in their interpretation of it but most see it differently to the rules of the Jewish Sabbath. As Bible knowledge has weakened among many churches, so the instinctive grasp of its value has diminished. It becomes harder for the churches to mobilise against Sunday trading as more of its members needlessly choose to shop on Sundays. Individualism means we think of it only in personal terms: am I getting the leisure I want? Yet the principle of Sabbath is: are we getting a day of rest together? The more we require people to work on Sunday (the nearest we have had historically to a shared day of rest) the less true this is.
We speak today with pride at the creation of a 24/7 society, yet this notion is hostile to what we know of how God calls us to live. Endless weekly activity is made to sound like it enriches society but it diminishes our personhood and weakens our relationships, stretching the fabric of human society. There are very few visual symbols of Sabbath rest in our country outside the Jewish community today and their absence is beginning to cause real damage to our culture. It is our duty, and privilege, as Christians to embody and lobby for a different way of life – and to do so before the memory of it is extinguished in this country as a defining mark of God’s creation.